Part 13: Conversations
Ezra stood behind Lady Morgan as she surveyed the servants. They were completely loyal to Christofer. Ezra could admire that, but it would probably get them all killed. He feared that Morgan was contemplating just such a course of action. The look on her face did not bode well for the servants.
He cleared his throat. “Lady Morgan. Perhaps it would be prudent to keep the servants for now. The rest of your household staff had yet to arrive. I don’t know about you, but I certainly would not enjoy waiting on myself in the meantime.”
She sighed with a little pout. “I suppose you’re right. Very well.” She waved her hand dismissively. “All of you—back to work.”
Everyone stood there, looking at her murderously.
Oh, no! No, please! Ezra couldn’t believe they would be so foolish as to defy her like this! He’d probably just saved them from being executed and now they were going to stand there and anger her. Leave you fools!
Morgan sat up straighter. “Are you deaf? I said get to work!”
“WE serve King Christofer—not you and your pet snake.” Madam Gloria gave Ezra a sniff of disdain.
Ezra was stunned. Didn’t they realize what Morgan could do to them?
Morgan narrowed her eyes at the woman. “And you are..?”
“Madam Gloria, head charwoman.”
“Gloria. What a presumptuous name.” She stilled, her voice falsely sweet. “And who is that lovely little lady there beside you? Is that your daughter?”
Gloria’s wide eyes and frightened gasp told Morgan that she was correct. “Come here, child.”
Gloria pushed her daughter behind her, her bravado fading fast.
“Captain. If you please?”
The captain of the guard grabbed the petrified girl. When Gloria tried to stop him, another guard restrained her.
Ezra took a step forward as if to intercede.
Morgan glared at him. “Back away and keep your place! I also don’t want to hear from you right now.”
He felt the heat of the amulet burning his skin. Against his will he was forced to step back and watch.
Morgan took the young girl’s face in her hands. “What’s your name, child?”
“Such a precious little thing. And what enchanting eyes and lovely hair. She’ll be an incredible beauty when she grows up.” She sighed sadly. “The world is such a cruel place, though. So many children never get the chance to grow up. So many terrible things can happen: war, disease, famine…accident.” The little girl was too frightened to move as Morgan tightened her grip.
Gloria’s whimpered pleas echoed through the room.
Morgan released the girl with a push, knocking her to the floor. Emily quickly scrambled over to her mother’s anxious arms.
“I am mistress here. Everything you do, you do for me. Is that clear?”
The servants bowed low, muttering their assent.
“Well, now. That’s better. Off with you! I’m sure there’s plenty of work to be done.”
As they filed out of the room, little Emily glanced back for a moment. Her eyes caught Ezra’s. That look broke his heart. It was full of anger, hate, betrayal—but most of all, fear. The child he’d entertained with humorous stories only days before now looked at him like he was a monster. To see those things in her eyes was worse that any punishment Morgan could devise.
Ezra sat in his chamber. He was King of Camelot now. Well, in name only. Morgan was the real power here and everyone knew it. She had told him several things he was not to do, but only one specific order on what to do—keep the castle running smoothly. She had other, more important business to attend to and didn’t want to be bothered with inconsequential questions such as what should be served for supper. Ezra was essentially overseeing the household operations—something Queen Mary would be doing if she weren’t confined to her chambers under guard. But managing the servants gave him a kind of freedom he hadn’t anticipated. He was allowed to roam the entire castle except for the dungeon area from which he’d been expressly forbidden.
Ezra was tired of being Morgan’s helpless puppet. His freedom had allowed him to take note of the movements of the soldiers and servants. He knew where everyone was at all times. Surely he could do something with that knowledge. The guards weren’t always diligent. In fact, in his wanderings he’d found them quite eager to engage in drink and cards. Perhaps someone could slip out of the castle whilst these soldiers were otherwise engaged. Someone small, non-threatening, fast.
Maybe there was something he could do after all instead of sulking in his chambers! He jumped to his feet and headed for the pantry where he was sure to find the formidable Madam Nettie and her unassuming niece, Mistress Casey.
Sure enough, they were both there, making preparations for supper. They stopped what they were doing when he entered. The two of them gave him a polite curtsy, but he knew perfectly well that their thoughts were far from subservient—especially the outspoken Madam Nettie.
Nettie glared at him. “And what can we do for you, Milord?”
“Please don’t let me interrupt your work. I’ve only come for a quick bite of food. A piece of fruit, perhaps?” He went to the larder, ostentatiously in search of an apple. Madam Nettie brushed past him and got one out a bin for him.
“My thanks.” He took a bite and leaned against the wall, making himself at home.
“Surely Milord has other more important things to do?”
“There are always important things to do. Managing the day-to-day tasks, handling supplies, watching for attacks from other kingdoms… Goodness knows if King Orrin were aware of the situation here, he’d send an army to assist King Christofer immediately. Being as close as he is, he could have soldiers here in a couple of days. It’s too bad for King Christofer that someone small and light with a fast horse wasn’t able to sneak out of the castle with a message.” He was staring intently at Mistress Casey. She was returning his look just as forcefully. Definitely not subservient.
He took another bite of his apple. “But all this work… One must find time for rest. A break for a light meal…” he held up the apple “…or for other amusements. Cards for example. Very popular. Did you know that the soldiers guarding the South Wall and its roads enjoy some rousing games late into the night? Cards are so diverting. A man can become so engrossed in a game that he loses all sense of his surroundings. Why, I bet in the heat of a particularly interesting game, a quiet, darkly-clad person could sneak right out of the castle and through the woods with none the wiser. I sometimes partake in a few games myself to alleviate the stress of my duties. I think I might see if I can engage those young men of the South Wall in a game tonight. Midnight is always a good time. Quiet. No one lurking about who shouldn’t be.”
Nettie slammed her rolling pin down on the table. “Is this one of her Ladyship’s tests to see if we’re loyal? We’re not fools! Are you trying to get my niece killed with one of your little games?”
“Why, Madam Nettie. I have no idea what you mean. I only spoke of possibilities and cards.”
“You want to send my niece out there to get killed! Why would you want to help King Christofer when you’re in league with that witch?”
Ezra’s face hardened. “I wouldn’t say I was helping him at all. Am I near the dungeon? Am I actively helping him escape? I’m simply engaged in idle talk. If someone were to act based on my ramblings, that wouldn’t be my fault. I have no control over the actions of others.”
She snorted. “Protect your own backside, huh?”
“Whether you believe it or not, my ignorance would protect us all.”
Casey grabbed her aunt’s arm and pulled her aside. The two of them kept their voices low so Ezra couldn’t hear. Ezra busied himself with crunching his apple on the other side of the room. She had to do this! He couldn’t think of anything else.
“I can get to King Orrin, Aunt Nettie!”
“Don’t be a fool, girl. We can’t trust Lord Standish!”
“Even if it’s a trick, we have to try. We don’t have a choice. When Lady Morgan’s regular household staff gets here, do you think she’ll keep us around? We’re going to die anyway.”
Nettie looked at the niece she’d raised as a daughter. When had she grown up? The old woman nodded reluctantly. They turned to Lord Standish about to say something when he held up a hand.
“Don’t tell me. It’s better if I don’t know. That way, if someone were to ask me if there’s a plot in the works to free the king, I can honestly answer that I don’t know. Because, of course, nothing unusual is going to happen tonight and at midnight the two of you will be sound asleep and nowhere near the South Wall.” He said it in such a way as to imply that he sincerely hoped that wouldn’t be the case. He turned and left quickly before they had a chance to say anything else. He only hoped the amulet was as literal-minded as he believed it to be—for all their sakes.
He’d been ordered not to help the king, but that hadn’t prevented him from planting the seed in someone else’s mind. And he truly didn’t know what Madam Nettie and Mistress Casey would do. He hoped the young woman would go for help, but he didn’t know for sure. So if Morgan were to ask him, he could tell the truth and not get them all hanged on the spot. So many “ifs”. Everything depended on so little. Now all he could do was wait and see.